take this coworker and shove him
December 1, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm leaving my job in part because of a toxic coworker. Do I tell my bosses the real reason for my departure, and how?

So, I'm starting a new job next week--yay! In leaving the current one, I've tried to be very diplomatic and leave doors open/bridges unburned when possible. I'm leaving for a bunch of reasons (want to try a different company culture, new position offers opportunities to learn something new, don't feel very invested in what current company produces) but one of the major ones is a toxic coworker.

He values his time above everyone else's, and basically refuses to work on projects with other people on the team. He would do things like refuse to attend (necessary) design meetings or take ownership of certain features/fixes and simply never complete them. On top of this, his actual work (what I've seen of it, since he is apparently allergic to collaboration) is below par and there have been multiple instances of people (including me) having to fix problems created by his work. I was quite happy at my current employer until he joined and had no thoughts of leaving. It wasn't until I hit a series of extremely long working weeks, necessary because we had committed to meeting a certain deadline based on having 3 people working on the project fulltime and were forced to make do with only 2 due to new coworker's refusal to participate, that I started taking recruiters' calls and primping my resume. Since then I've been placed on a different team and no longer have to work with this person on a day-to-day basis, but he sits very close to me and his constant negativity and complaining (nothing is ever his fault or responsibility) still grates on me.

Only for two more days though! So far, in talking to my managers about my decision to leave, I have only mentioned the positive aspects of the new position & my desire to change, in hopes of keeping the transition a positive one. However, I went out to lunch with a coworker who's still on Negative Neil's team and she practically begged me to say something about it to the management team. The more I think about it, the more I would like to, but I have two concerns. One is seeming petty or childish towards the toxic coworker (my manager is aware of my difficulties with him, which is the unspoken reason I was moved to another team.) Another is that, frankly, my complaints are as much with management as with him directly--in my opinion, it is their role to prevent these kind of situations from happening, and I don't know how to talk about it without at least some kind of implied criticism. I feel for the people who still have to work with this guy, but I'm primarily concerned with my own reputation and future prospects.

Do you think I should bring it up at all, and if so how? I have an exit interview scheduled, but it is with HR, not my manager.
posted by animalrainbow to Work & Money (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Possibly relevant details: this is a large company and he has about 10 years of experience on me, although we work at the same level functionally and in title.
posted by animalrainbow at 12:01 PM on December 1, 2011

Let the people who still need to deal with him deal with him. Your job in an exit interview is to leave the company with an impression so spotless you could eat off it. Who knows when you'll need to not be remembered as the person who left with a bunch of complaints about their coworkers and their supervisors' inability to deal with said coworkers.
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on December 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

my manager is aware of my difficulties with him


Another is that, frankly, my complaints are as much with management as with him directly--in my opinion, it is their role to prevent these kind of situations from happening,

Then I don't think you need to say anything else, nor should you. If you've bumped it up a level already; any further noise may well come across as criticism of management for allowing the circumstances to continue, which is dangerous territory to march into. Enjoy your brand new day and try to let it go (including any guilt you might be tempted to indulge in when dealing with people still in the jerk's department).
posted by aught at 12:07 PM on December 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Let it go. You're leaving. It's not your problem anymore.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:08 PM on December 1, 2011

Do not bring it up with HR. There's no reason to - there's nothing they will do with it, and exit interviews are basically a golden chance for you to get "Do Not Rehire" marked on your file. Be pleasant, vague, and brief.

If your manager already knows about the problem, then there's nothing more to say. If you end up at a last-day happy hour with your manager, you could say something like "If it weren't for That Guy, I might have considered staying..." but that is exactly as many words as I would use and then I'd drop the subject and move on. Even that makes you look a bit petty. They know - they're for whatever reason declining to handle it. That won't change.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:11 PM on December 1, 2011

If your manager already knows about it, then you've done all you can do, and you've already seen their response.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2011

If you mention anything, and I do not think you should, be as elliptical as possible. Allude, rather than state. Cheerful/neutral demeanor.

...but don't. Just... just don't.
posted by aramaic at 12:13 PM on December 1, 2011

Very far in the future, very far, if you happen to bump into management somewhere, especially somewhere with drinks, you can say something like "Is ol' [worthless] still around?" if he is still around and the tone in he answer indicates he is not loved, or if he is gone and the tone indicates he is not loved, then you can have a quick laugh about his awfulness and then very very quickly jump to some positive remarks about your Alma Workplace and other co-workers.

Or you can just enjoy thinking about doing something like that, but keep mum if the opportunity arises.

I am hoping your new job is poisonous-coworker free!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:14 PM on December 1, 2011

Yeah, honestly, who cares? You won't be there anymore and if he sucks and they've ignored it, they're the ones who set themselves up for failure or mediocrity. You've done what you can. The only thing you say in an exit interview was that you enjoyed your time and that you just wanted to try something different and accept some new challenges at this time.
posted by inturnaround at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

What do you hope to accomplish by doing this? If its to vent, find a therapist or a punching bag. If its to convince others' of your righteousness and your colleague's awfulness, find a significant other to whom you can complain about your colleague. But, really, just move on.
posted by dfriedman at 12:19 PM on December 1, 2011

You haven't much to gain from doing this, except with a key decision maker you could actually trust to do anything about it. I would be pleasant and vague, then talk about the positive aspects of the new job. Tell them you've enjoyed your time there and that if the right opportunity came up you'd come back and/or refer business there, etc.

Frankly, it's not very perceptive for a soon-to-be-former co-worker to think you can effectively fight this battle when you've already bailed out. Instead, be open to letting them network with you and maybe they'll find their own way out.

With management as insipid as that at your old job, it's not likely they'll bother to do much about a mendacious employee until all the good employees are gone and new-hire retention stats plummet. Unless a manager with whom you have a good relationship comes to ask the real reasons for your departure, there's nothing else you can do. Also, if you do talk about it, simply cite serious personality conflicts you, and others, had with this person, but don't go into the why's. Direct them to current employees for those answers.
posted by Hylas at 12:23 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

If your company was going to do anything about this employee they would have done it by now. It's quite possible management doesn't view them as a problem and wouldn't appreciate you claiming suddenly (since you haven't brought it up as a reason for leaving) at this point. Congratulate yourself for getting a job in a tough economy and just move on.
posted by tommasz at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2011

I'm going to disagree with others here. You are leaving, you have a new job to land in, and therefore you can be honest and get away unscathed, without seeming like you are complaining or needlessly bitching. You are clearly moving on, so you don't have an axe to grind.

...I don't know how to talk about it without at least some kind of implied criticism.

This can't be helped. You didn't look for a new opportunity because working with Neil was all kittens and rainbows. Some bad things occurred and management should be made aware. Criticism can always be dealt constructively instead of just a wild-eyed rant, but it's worth sharing regardless.

...I feel for the people who still have to work with this guy, but I'm primarily concerned with my own reputation and future prospects.

I believe you can take care of both.

...Do you think I should bring it up at all, and if so how? I have an exit interview scheduled, but it is with HR, not my manager.

Yes, you should share your concerns about Neil, and do it at your exit interview with HR. They are in a position where the info shared can be used more objectively (more so than your management, who will have personalities and agendas involved). Exit interviews were created for this sort of thing. You, a talented and productive employee, are leaving the company because of Negative Neil and how the company handled him. HR should hear your thoughts; "large companies" really need to be specifically told this kind of thing. Recruiting and retaining talent is widely regarded as the singular path to business success. You have an opportunity to help them fix a clearly toxic problem.

The way to do it without seeming like a malcontent is to be very professional and very factual. Don't let emotion enter the discussion at all. Ask for discretion up front, and emphasize that since you are leaving for a new opportunity and don't want to burn bridges, your inclination was not to say anything—and yet because of your respect and best wishes for the organization and your coworkers, you feel obligated to relay that Neil's actions (and how they were subsequently handled by the company) were disappointing, and a contributing factor in your decision to go.

Use factual language about Neil such as "missed deadlines" and "refused to attend team meetings." Explain that you have relayed your concerns in the past, but still were in a situation to need to work with the guy and it impacted your morale. And be frank about your own feelings... that the lack of management awareness around Neil's low performance, and lack of proactive response once aware, made you question the company's commitment to a collaborative, high-performing work environment.

And end on a high note—that your primary reasons for leaving are external, you enjoyed much of your time with the firm, yadda yadda.

But if you didn't feel somewhat obligated to do right by the organization, you wouldn't have asked the question here. I encourage you to do the thing that is truthful, fair to those you are leaving behind, and leaves you with a clean conscience.

I personally don't care about a "Do Not Rehire" stamp on my file, whatever that means. For whatever reason, your manager and your coworkers weren't able to effect change in the past... but today, you are out the door. You're safe. Help the folks still in the trenches by admitting the honest reasons behind your dissatisfaction.
posted by pineapple at 12:31 PM on December 1, 2011 [32 favorites]

Are you 100% certain your opinions on toxic coworker are shared? Lots of people have lots of different opinions on interaction, and if you have a frank discussion with someone who really doesn't see the same issues, it will not only result in no action, but only serve to make you look worse.
posted by xingcat at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2011

You are resolving your problem by departing. If they're smart, they do exit interviews. If you have an exit interview, that's your chance to talk about it. Otherwise, you have nothing to gain, and your company is unlikely to deal with the information effectively.
posted by theora55 at 1:00 PM on December 1, 2011

I agree with everything Pineapple said. You are leaving and in all likelihood will not be in a position to re-apply with the same company. The fact that the exit interview is with HR may be to your benefit - it is an impartial party who (presumably) knows little to nothing about the situation. This is what an HR department is for.

Using factual language and keeping it positive is KEY. Stress that the reasons that you are leaving are to find new challenges and opportunities - NOT because of one co-worker or management. You can say something like, "Interpersonal dynamics at this company and subsequent management decisions based on those dynamics put me in the position of reconsidering my employment here" and cite the factual reasons for that decision - working longer hours, re-doing work that needed to be completed, etc. Or something like that - you'd use your own words.

I disagree with the notion that you resolve the issue by leaving. I have left jobs in the past quite dissatisfied with management decisions, a toxic environment and nasty interpersonal dynamics. The difference between an angry malcontent and someone who leaves a spotless reputation behind is that the latter voices their observations and experiences with honesty, fairness for all involved, and a clear self-reflective capacity. If you can explain the situation in a cool manner, and perhaps express situations where you may have learned something about yourself in the process, you will be respected. It is possible to express yourself and leave a spotless reputation - even if you feel like a malcontent.

And you will leave with a clear head that you did what YOU needed to do in the moment, not for anyone else. Silence and "every man for himself" attitudes only serve to promote toxic environments where problems aren't solved - good employees leave and things don't change.

Best of luck to you! It's not easy, but it can be done.
posted by luciddream928 at 1:31 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should mention something at your exit interview, something along the lines that Pineapple suggests.

Anecdata from my first job in 1977 with a major chain supermarket. My supervisor in my section was toxic and a bully. I finally couldn't stand it and quit over the phone. When I went to pick up my pay later that week the store manager called me into his office and wanted to know why I was leaving. I broke down, cried, and told how my supervisor had made my life miserable.

Shopping there a while later with my mum I talked to an ex-coworker. When I asked how they were going, they replied "oh work is so much better now since [supervisor] was fired."
posted by Kerasia at 1:53 PM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I absolutely wouldn't mention this at the exit interview... worst case scenario, toxic worker gets fired and ends up getting another job, guess where? On the desk next to yours in your new job.
posted by ebear at 2:43 PM on December 1, 2011

You have an opportunity to help them fix a clearly toxic problem.

What is the upside to the OP? Why should the OP, who has functionally been forced out of a job they liked due to the company's failure to deal with the toxic coworker previously, risk their own prospects to do the company a favor?

Silence and "every man for himself" attitudes only serve to promote toxic environments where problems aren't solved - good employees leave and things don't change.

The OP didn't create this problem. The OP already informed management that there were problems. The OP has a right to protect their own future.
posted by endless_forms at 3:34 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Let the supervisor know that this clown is a cock-knocker and the reason you're leaving.

I left a crap job where I had to tolerate a major league pud (Good ol' "FingerBanging" Fred) and told the boss I was leaving because Fred was a useless prick. Too bad the boss was Fred's brother.
posted by porn in the woods at 3:46 PM on December 1, 2011

I can't speak to professional repercussions, because my entire life has changed since this happened. But personally? Giving HR the unvarnished truth in an exit interview was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done at work.

I kept it professional and spoke about policies instead of people, and what was untenable about the job and why. Focusing on specific actionable things that I felt could be improved kept it from sounding like petty grousing.

It wasn't important to me what the company chose to do with that information. I just needed to acknowledge that the workplace was toxic, and let go of the negativity I felt around that. So depending what you want to accomplish with the interview, I think it can be totally worthwhile to speak your mind.

Congrats on your new job!
posted by Space Kitty at 3:53 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

What is the upside to the OP?

The OP gets to tell the truth, do the Right Thing, and avoid being bullied into submission for no good reason.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I vote for telling them. If you do it positively, I see no reason why it would put a "ding" on your record, unless the company's culture is toxic. In which case, you wouldn't want to go back anyway.

Something like "I'm leaving because I found another opportunity. I decided that I needed to look for other opportunities because the situation with Fred became intolerable, and my attempts to cope with him, and subsequent attempts to address this with my supervisor were not fruitful. It might have just been a personality conflict, but I couldn't be at my best in that situation, and that's not fair to the company or myself."

I say this because the exit interview is a final opportunity to do some good in the company. You don't work there anymore, the office politics don't matter. But maybe mentioning something will help your former coworkers somehow. Maybe they send Fred to "how not to be a dick" class, or maybe the next complaint against him is viewed much more seriously in view of the fact that he already caused someone to quit.
posted by gjc at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2011

I vote for sharing your views. Things can't change if no one ever talks about what's wrong. What if your new job is because they got rid of a toxic person, or your new boss or one of you new co-workers. It could be because senior management learned from exit interviews that they had a dick employee that was making them lose people. I mean think about it...the guy replacing you is in for miserable time. You should hope that you aren't replacing a guy who got fed up with a toxic dickhead at your new job.
posted by shoesietart at 5:08 PM on December 1, 2011

I was startled at first because I thought you were a girl I manage who has her last day tomorrow, and who is leaving the company due to a toxic co-worker (several levels above her) despite changes being actively made to 100% remedy the situation.

Here's the thing...as a manager, as much as I'd selfishly love for you to "tell it all" in your exit interview in hopes that the company would take action, you'd be incredibly stupid from a professional standpoint to do so. The exit interview is basically your chance to tell whatever white lie is necessary to make the company think that it had nothing to do with them and keep things on as positive terms as possible.

Why? Well, there's a million reasons. In case they mark you as "Do Not Rehire," in case the new company calls to verify employment and gets told that, in case you say something to HR that makes its way back to others and it bites you in the ass down the line, etc. There is LITERALLY nothing good that can come of it, so don't do it.

Odds are, your former coworkers will continue to deal with the problem, which will likely be magnified and come under a microscope with your departure on its own volition.

Enjoy the new job and try to figure out if there's a way that you can spot that sort of behavior early on and change course.
posted by Elminster24 at 7:03 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

The good that can come of it is that the problem gets solved.

The whole point of the exit interview is to uncover the unvarnished truth from people who have nothing to lose. HiroProtagonist is right: don't be bullied by people who don't want their applecarts upset and who want to maintain the status quo SO BADLY that they will let employees quit rather than solve a problem, costing the company tons of money to find a replacement. If you want to tell them, tell them. As many have said above, if you do it professionally, there is no reason why it can hurt you.
posted by gjc at 8:13 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

One company I worked for gave exit interviews when employees were leaving. I asked the HR person if there would be any ramifications from the exit interview and she basically said that complaints would be filed and if other employees complained that all reports would be considered. So, in that case, an exit interview was just "for the record" but was important in the case that other employees reacted - it may have been more evidence against a certain boss.
posted by bendy at 10:54 PM on December 1, 2011

[few comments removed - more answering less arguing please.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:27 AM on December 3, 2011

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